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How to distinguish French words/sounds?

Bonjour à tous! Earlier this month I decided that I wanted to learn French so since then I've been practicing at least 3-5 times a day on Duolingo. I'm able to read French for the most part, but what I struggle with the most is making out words and sounds. I guess listening to a robot pronouncing French words plays a role in this but even when I listen to actual people speak French, I can't tell what's what. Any tips on how to distinguish words so that I can understand what someone is saying? A lot of words that I've learned so far (usually short ones like Je and J'ai, C'est and Ce, etc) sound very similar so it's really hard for me to differentiate the words and decide which one is being used. I suppose this is okay when I'm practicing but if I'm having a conversation I don't think it will be very nice for me to stand there for 2 minutes trying to decide what word the person used.

Do you guys have any advice on how to overcome this problem so I can become a better French speaker/listener? Merci beaucoup!

August 18, 2017



I agree this is a challenging part of learning to understand French where words are written differently but to the learner's ear the pronunciation sounds the same or nearly the same, especially with the way the French language links words.

Do you have access to French language television channels? If so, one good way to practice is to watch French language television with subtitles turned on. Don't worry about paying any attention to what is going on in the television program, just focus on the written text as it is spoken because it will take all of your concentration plus some just to follow along.

If you don't have French language television available to you, then I wonder if maybe Youtube has the capability for subtitles? I'm not sure on that one, but it'd be worth checking.


There's a variety of Netflix shows that allow French audio and subtitles so I can definitely check some out. Thank you for the help! Does this confusion with pronunciations go away as you learn more or do you get used to it? I am obviously willing to be patient because I know that I just started learning French so of course I don't expect to be fluent in just two months. My sister said that practicing on Duolingo itself is not sufficient enough and that I also have to expose myself to various other methods of learning French. Thanks once again for the help!


I asked this about a week ago and only got one reponse - It is hard! They also suggested continuing to listen to slowed down French. I am watching Yabla videos ($10/month) and doing the 16000 sentence Anki deck and it seems to be helping.


Yes I agree, it is very difficult to distinguish words. I'll look into those videos soon, thank you!


Two things that greatly help me with this type of aural discrimination:

  1. Go to Google Translate and type in
    Ce c'est ce c'est
    Then hit the "speaker" icon and Google Translate's robot voice will pronounce the words. It makes it a lot easier to hear the difference. If it goes too fast then put periods between the words:
    Ce. C'est. Ce. C'est.

  2. Say all the sentences along with Duo. Your mispronunciations will jump out at you and you will quickly learn that "Je" sounds more like an American short u sound (juh) whereas j'ai sounds more like an American short e sound (jeh).


Thank you so much! I pronounce the words on Duolingo after choosing an answer but I'll focus more to them. Thanks for the help!

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